Rid Your Meetings of Dogs and Doorbells

Cisco Blog >Collaboration

Collaboration

– August 10, 2017 – 55 Comments

Love them or hate them, meetings are important. They’re a big part of how we get work done, how we run our business, and how we collaborate. And if you’re like me, you’re in meetings a lot, which is OK by me since I run Cisco’s WebEx business!

But there is one thing that drives us here at Cisco crazy about meetings. In fact, we were bothered by it so much that we took it upon ourselves to do something about it.

What was it? Background noise: keyboard clicking, dog barking, doorbell ringing. And then there was the potato chip guy… munch, munch, munch. Incredibly annoying! Beyond being annoying, it turns out that background noise can affect your concentration.

“Researchers have found that environmental noise—background music, city sounds, people’s conversations—leads to a decrease in performance for most people,” according to Fast Company. “But the good news is that many of those sounds are easy to tune out, making even small reductions likely to improve our effectiveness.”

Certain types of background noise are OK depending on the situation. Nature sounds can actually help me focus on a specific task. But, add chirping birds to a meeting, and I will not have the same positive reaction. Unwanted background noise is very distracting. You can lose your train of thought. It can impact the point of your presentation. Or worse, you can come across as unprofessional.

WebEx recognizes knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs. Once detected, it prompts you to mute your microphone. That’s it. Simple.

We wanted to fix this problem. Well, at least for WebEx participants – we can’t help you with the person sitting next to you with the potato chip obsession. So our engineers got to work. Using machine learning, WebEx can now detect background noise and prompt you to mute your microphone if you have called into the meeting from your computer. Lots of innovation for a small feature but with huge benefits!

Coming in the next couple of weeks, sounds like knocking, typing, sirens, and barking dogs are classified as background noise by WebEx. Once detected, you’re prompted with a pop-up message to mute your audio and microphone. That’s it. Simple.

With more people sending audio through WebEx than any other online meeting service, we have built up a thorough understanding of the most common (and annoying) forms of background noise. We use artificial intelligence to examine the meeting audio and pattern-match it against these known annoyances. The result is the simple, but powerful suggestion, that maybe you’d like to mute your microphone. You’re welcome.

So, when you’re “that guy” and you realize that you need to mute, do you mute your headset, or mute the WebEx app? And when you need to speak up – do you remember which one you used? We addressed that, too. Now you can mute and unmute your headset and desktop audio at the same time. With just one click, you can jump back into the conversation without any hassle. No more starting to talk and hearing someone say “are you still on mute?” just as you were getting to the good part.

By making meetings less distracting, meetings become more focused, and therefore, more effective. And since we all have plenty of other things to do, a focused, effective meeting experience can only help us be more productive.

What’s next you ask? Besides muting the potato chip guy, our engineers are finding new ways every day to leverage artificial intelligence (AI) to make meetings better. This is our humble – but extremely valuable – start to seeing a generation of “smart meetings.”

Learn more about WebEx and the new features.

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55 Comments

  1. Scott Merritt

    August 25, 2017 at 1:00 pm

    Now if there were only some kind of real time analytics to warn the active speaker when they were being boring, or there mic was going in and out… That would be a cool addition! Love the progress and the direction this is going!

  • Kim Austin

    August 25, 2017 at 1:38 pm

    Let’s see, the “boring” analytics could be the count of how many attendees clicked into another window while a person was speaking. Now, there’s an idea. Of course, you’d have to build in the intelligence to recognize things like: football season, attendee location in Wisconsin, game day.

  • Matt Taylor

    August 22, 2017 at 12:59 pm

    Love It!

  • Anonymous

    August 22, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Great feature value add that should make the whole virtual meeting experience better for everyone.

  • Anonymous

    August 22, 2017 at 9:47 am

    If this truly works, I suggest a Pulitzer Peace Prize for the creator of the algorithm that detects this background noise!

  • Satyapriya Sharma

    August 22, 2017 at 8:37 am

    Awesome … cann’t wait for the feature to release 🙂

  • Robert Casipit

    August 22, 2017 at 7:58 am

    Awesome and useful feature for sure! Another annoying thing I’ve noticed lately is meetings kicking off later than the actual start time to accommodate the habitual slackers. Let’s get back to starting meetings on time folks and not punish the ones that make the effort to join on time.

  • Dari Brown

    August 22, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Love this, but I must admit, I do enjoy a barking dog.

  • Carolyn McDonald

    August 21, 2017 at 8:37 am

    This is really fantastic – love!

  • Ritu Gupta

    August 20, 2017 at 9:00 pm

    Wow. Great job!

  • pzolfo

    August 18, 2017 at 2:28 pm

    This is great!

  • Sara

    August 18, 2017 at 12:40 pm

    How about automatically muting the person who puts their end of the call on hold?

    • Tammy Valley

      August 21, 2017 at 7:59 am

      This is fantastic! I often find myself debating whether asking the offender to put themselves on mute will cause even more of a distraction than the typing/chewing itself. I’m excited.

    • Anonymous

      August 22, 2017 at 9:50 am

      Oh, the other issue is compliance. If said user is complacent enough to yell at their kids while on a conference, or chomp into a mic…I doubt they will click the “mute” button when it pops up. But I still have great hope! For sure.

  • Marc Cline

    August 18, 2017 at 8:39 am

    Very cool. Can’t wait to see this in action.

  • Lisa Hasch

    August 18, 2017 at 7:28 am

    Nice!

  • lfedden

    August 17, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    You mean no one is going to hear my French Bulldogs snoring any more?? That’s my trademark sound!!! 🙂 This is an excellent solution though! Great work!!

  • Anonymous

    August 17, 2017 at 4:09 pm

    Excellent. I’d think an option to mute by default may even be a better solution with a pop up box that says youre muted so when you actually want to speak you can unmute yourself

  • Ruchira

    August 17, 2017 at 2:26 pm

    This is a great feature! Looking forward to using it.

  • Ash Mehta

    August 17, 2017 at 12:43 pm

    Cool – can’t wait to try it

  • Jim O’Connor

    August 17, 2017 at 9:46 am

    That’s a novel and creative use of ML, well done. Now for your next challenge can I have the meeting transcribed, summarized, and available on demand?

  • Terry Hunter

    August 17, 2017 at 8:32 am

    Awesome!! Most all of us have been on both ends of this during important meetings! Nice advancement!!

  • Elise Smith

    August 17, 2017 at 6:59 am

    Thank you for posting such a helpful article!

  • Roger Kennealy

    August 17, 2017 at 5:54 am

    This is a great feature – thanks for adding it. I have another suggestion for implementing a feature in WebEx that I have recently got in my new cordless Plantronics headset. It’s a “mute warning”. If the headset’s microphone detects that I am talking while I have its mute button switched on, it whispers a message into my headset’s earphones reminding me that I am on mute, and suggesting that I might want to unmute myself. Now I recognize that not everyone is suddenly going to rush out an buy such a headset, but this same functionality *could* be implemented in WebEx … provided the user used the WebEx mute function rather than the mute function on their local phone/headset. The WebEx team would need to advertise this feature prominently so that users migrated to using WebEx mute rather than local mute, but if it were adopted widely we’d also get rid of the inevitable deathly silences followed by a “sorry, I forgot I was on mute”. I don’t think I’ve ever been on a WebEx when at least one person has ended up talking into their mute button! Combining this feature and the WebEx automute on annoying background noise would make a really powerful combination.

  • Dominik Scholl

    August 17, 2017 at 5:07 am

    Great development in the right direction. There is an uncountable number of background noise types, that could have impact to meetings’ quality. Maybe there’s a way of real time analyzation of any sound that comes to the micro, and the SW/machine filters for your voice and lets this through only? I (dog owner) am really looking forward to these features 🙂

  • Glenn Wastyn

    August 17, 2017 at 12:18 am

    IF the AI can detect the sound, why can’t it filter it out automatically, instead of muting completely?

  • Anitha Aswath

    August 16, 2017 at 10:48 pm

    How cool is this! Super, super helpful. Thanks so much to you and your team 🙂

  • Nilashis Coomar

    August 16, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    Super Like!!!

  • Aditya R

    August 16, 2017 at 8:20 pm

    Awesome update Jens!

  • Steve Kostyk

    August 16, 2017 at 5:24 pm

    Nice job Jens..so funny and yet so true!

  • Garth

    August 16, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    This is great news. I wish I could click on a “Like”button on the article, but will settle for leaving you and your team a big “Thanks!” for improving the Webex Meeting experience.

  • Anonymous

    August 16, 2017 at 2:53 pm

    In the case of a user who is not paying attention to their webex session screen (such as doing other work, etc.) or perhaps has physically stepped away from their session, suggest a slight modification to this feature … Instead, have the dialog box state something like: “We’re detecting background noise from your microphone … Please mute your mic and/or push the ‘Got It / Thank you !’ button below.” “Otherwise, if we don’t get a response from you in the next 15-seconds, the system will mute your line.” 🙂

    • Jens Meggers

      August 16, 2017 at 2:59 pm

      I agree that a pop up dialog would be better. We will test the feature for a few months and then adjust as needed. Jens

  • Jim

    August 16, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    That’s awesome! Thank you. And don’t forget about leaf blowers. That’s one of the most obnoxious background sounds out there.

  • Eleanor

    August 16, 2017 at 1:30 pm

    this is super – can’t wait to see it in action! that’s gotta save $ by not wasting time discussing who’s line is that? What I’d really like is to be able to have Voice Distinction so that my audio is recognized, even if I am in a room with other people (instead of room-phone with host ID).

  • who cares

    August 16, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Well, for those who attend meetings from India, the challenges are not just dogs. Car/Bike horns, 24x7x365 The street vendors shouting out their items The kids screaming/playing on the streets The baby in the neighboring house crying, loudly The lady next door running her blender at full speed The grandpa upstairs ringing bells during his prayers Telephone ringing in the next room All these sounds come through clearly during the webex meetings. Would love to see all those noises suppressed 🙂

  • Alli W

    August 16, 2017 at 11:33 am

    This is AWESOME. I’d be happy if it automuted people too 🙂 Next up – can you modulate the audio so that the really loud people are softened and the really soft ones are louder so we aren’t diving for the volume button all the time? Great ideas!

  • Dave W

    August 16, 2017 at 8:52 am

    That’s great. But I keep my mic muted anytime I am not talking. What I need is some kind of force field so that the dogs don’t telepathically know every time I need to unmute. They are uncanny about starting up just as I have to talk 🙂

    • Kim Austin

      August 16, 2017 at 9:28 am

      Dave — I used to blame my dog, but I think there’s a sentry squirrel that watches me in my office. When I reach to unmute, he signals his squirrel buddies to antagonize the dog.

  • Alessia Frisina

    August 15, 2017 at 11:25 pm

    This is great! I would add to the potato chips eater … the Darth Vader breather…!

    • Peter Grafton

      August 16, 2017 at 12:43 pm

      Or the “I have a cold and cough directly into the mic”. Ear splitting.

  • Gary Kevorkian

    August 15, 2017 at 9:11 am

    +1 And you might want to consider adding lawn mowers and leaf blowers. I work at home on the day that our gardener comes so I can get our dogs out of the back yard. And, it never fails…I’m always jumping on a WebEx whenever he shows up.

  • Amith Vijayakumar

    August 15, 2017 at 9:04 am

    This is an excellent feature. Love to see it in action

  • Lesley

    August 15, 2017 at 2:13 am

    Love this Jens! Can’t wait to see it in action!

  • Anonymous

    August 14, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Now if only we could filter out comments that don’t make sense! That would be AI 🙂 In all seriousness, it’s great seeing innovation that makes collaboration more seamless.

  • Dave T

    August 14, 2017 at 6:51 am

    Hi Jens, Will the NEW WebEx artificial intelligence use pattern matching for someone’s MUSIC ON HOLD which comes on when they take a call while listening to a WebEx call and also mute them?

    • Jens Meggers

      August 14, 2017 at 8:12 am

      thank you Dave T for your interest. The approach we have taken is to implement the voice detection client side. The first release will detect non-voice patterns originating from the desktop client. We are evaluating server side detection down the road. I hope that helps. Jens

  • Aaron McArdle – Zdi

    August 13, 2017 at 7:57 am

    Hi Jens. Great article and great innovation from WebEx. We love the direction Cisc is headed.

  • Anilbabu Jaiswal

    August 11, 2017 at 12:08 pm

    Good to see these improvements in webex

  • Jens Metze

    August 11, 2017 at 6:05 am

    Hi Jens, great job from you and your team. Cisco @ Collaboration the next step to the future. Perfect..;-)

  • Nothing new

    August 11, 2017 at 3:42 am

    Good to see others bring this technology out. Other vendors have had this for a while. Great in busy environments.

  • Morgan Hallahan

    August 11, 2017 at 1:54 am

    Great new feature Jens. The technology is fantastic, but it’s still just people using it. More efficient muting is a great help especially for Mr Potato Chip.

  • Rahul Agrawal

    August 10, 2017 at 10:25 pm

    This is indeed a very helpful feature! Happy to see this innovation in webex

  • Gail Young

    August 10, 2017 at 4:15 pm

    Jens this may just be the coolest feature we have developed yet! I am very excited about this announcement.

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